At much acclaimed restaurants like Heston's Dinner, one gets the sense of fixed menus with little if anything ever really changing over time, much like his three star gaff The Fat Duck. We don't wish to be seen to be picking on Heston here, but at the point of unchanging menus, development genius is superseded by industrial production. At L'enclume, the menu is, every day, in the hands of the chef. That in itself makes it exciting but also allows a chef no room for complacency.
And if all that weren't challenging enough, L'enclume wont use foreign ingredients in their cooking. They use Cumbrian ingredients as a preference, then North West, then UK products. Accordingly, you'll never find a lemon in the kitchen, rather, if they want acidity, they use (amongst other things) juice from the grapes they grow on their own farm. But in adopting this approach, they also embraced quite independently the current food zeitgeist (which makes it yet more puzzling that L'enclume has not itself been more warmly embraced).
Millet pudding with grains and Blackstick blue (cheese), burnt pear and alexanders, with bone marrow on top and a herb sauce is next out, again, first class. Pickled radish and Bessy beck trout, rocket and bronze fennel dazzles you from the plate with what seems like a sheet of radish, and following this, it is vintage potatoes in onion ashes, lovage and wood sorrel. It was Noma where we first came across vintage potatoes (a small second growth potato) in a similar sort of dish. The extensive use of flowers and herbs, even on desserts, and a menu more vegetable-herb based than protein based. It reminds us of Noma.
But here's the rub: suggest to most chefs that the plates they serve could easily grace the tables at Noma and you'd expect a big smile at the very least, but here, it's not exactly the case. Yes there's the foraging and the use of local ingredients but L'enclume is not trying to imitate or even emulate Noma, rather, they've independently arrived at broadly the same philosophy and both execute it equally well. Really, L'enclume is as good as Noma. But while the world goes Redzepi crazy, as said in our Part 1 post, Simon Rogan is not enjoying similar recognition (currently) so you might want to leave your Noma comparisons at home when you visit.
We'd been looking forward to the next course since seeing it on the menu: native lobster in pig skin, cabbage (sauce), grilled wild leeks, pink purslane. Lobster in a rough crispy pork skin is both delicious and in our experience totally original.
The last of the savouries is Herdwick Hogget (a one year old sheep), creamed salsify, cider and chenopodiums (a flowering herb). And a sweatbread on top. This was a stop the clock moment. The Hogget tasted better than any lamb we had ever had, it was a taste sensation and again represented a bold move by Simon in not simply opting for a milk fed lamb course. This was food at its very best.
We must also say that the front of house team were excellent and made us feel not only welcome but cared for, exhibiting a genuine interest in our overall well being while staying at L'enclume.
We always knew that great restaurants don't begin or end with Michelin stars or Mayfair post codes but L'enclume more than any other perhaps drives that point home. Creative, original and brilliant food by people who care in a beautiful part of the world. What further enticement do you need to go?
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Related posts: L'enclume Part 1